Six Ways to Build Emotional Safety this School Year

As students come back to classrooms this fall, safety will be on everyone’s mind. And while physical safety is very important, emotional safety must also be front of mind. Here are a couple ways to increase emotional safety for students this school year.

By Momentous Institute | Aug 13, 2021
Six Tips Emotional Safety

As students come back to classrooms this fall, some for the first time after an extended absence, safety will be on everyone’s mind. And while physical safety is very important, emotional safety must also be front of mind.

Here are a couple ways to increase emotional safety for students this school year.

Lean into social emotional learning practices.

This is not a drill! Now is the time to lean on every social emotional practice you’ve learned. While we are big believers that social emotional health is important all the time, it couldn’t be more important this year. Practices that help students feel a sense of belonging in the classroom, encourage resilience and grit, and help students practice empathy and kindness are what will get them through these challenging times.

What SEL skills have you used throughout your career? Time to dust them off. Look through any notes or lessons you may have used in the past. Think back to what worked well or times when you felt your classroom was the most cohesive and connected. What were you doing then? What was working well? Attend a training as a refresher (we offer several!

Start each day with a morning meeting.

Morning meetings help create a sense of community and safety. This year, it will be very important to get morning meetings started very early in the year. Doing so will set the tone for the classroom and create an environment of safety from the get-go. So plan for it as soon as you can, the first week of school if possible, to really set the stage for students.

Create space for feelings check-ins.

Many elementary teachers are familiar with feelings check-ins, but they can also get forgotten about mid-year or after a couple years of doing the same thing. This year, dust off your favorite version or find a fun new idea on Pinterest. You can make it a physical space they can check in as they enter the room, it can be incorporated into a calm down space, or it can even be electronic. Whatever you do, make sure students have the ability to think about how they’re feeling, and then let you know. Be sure to check in with students about their feelings as well.

Post students’ names throughout the classroom.

This is such an easy tip, but one that makes a big difference. Students will feel a deep sense of belonging when they arrive in the classroom and get the sense that they not only have a space, but are wanted there. Post their names on their individual spaces, but also on classroom displays and other spaces throughout the room. The more, the better!

Ensure that each student has an individual space.

Whether they sit at desks or tables, or some other configuration, it creates a sense of safety when students have a dedicated space. This allows them to feel comfortable in a predictable environment. You can always change up seating plans, but wait a bit into the year to make changes, give students a heads up, and allow for input if possible. At the start of the year, avoid moving students around too much. Allow them to settle in to one, specific, dedicated spot just for them. 

Greet each student at the door each morning.

Lastly, one of the easiest and best tricks for helping students feel they belong is to simply greet them at the door each morning. Just like you wouldn’t greet a guest at your house by sitting on the couch and calling, “Come in!”, you don’t want students to enter the classroom without being welcomed in by a friendly, caring face. You can make this as simple or as fancy as you want – some teachers have special greetings for each student, others have options for students to choose how they want to be greeted (fist bump, high five, etc.) and others simply smile and say good morning. The method is less important than the genuine care you show students as they enter the room that sends a message that you are glad they are there, that they belong, and that they are safe in this environment.

With these practices, students can come to a classroom where they feel safe and cared for, and this is a prerequisite to creating the opportunity for every child to thrive.